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Celebrating Juneteenth and the End of Slavery in the United States

Posted on Friday, June 19, 2020

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Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas (Credit: Library of Congress)

Happy Juneteenth!

On what has come to be celebrated as “Juneteenth”, we remember that on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read “General Order No. 3” which notified the people of Texas that all enslaved people were free. This notification occurred more than 2.5 years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. General Granger delivered his news from the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas. Given its historic significance, the Ashton Villa is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to the Library of Congress, 

"On July 13, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln consulted Secretary of State William H. Seward and Gideon Welles, the secretary of the navy, on the particulars of the Emancipation Proclamation. Seward anticipated anarchy in the South and perhaps foreign intervention in the war. Lincoln let the matter rest, but on July 22 he presented this draft proclamation to the full cabinet, to mixed reactions. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Attorney General Edward Bates advocated the document’s immediate release. Salmon P. Chase, treasury secretary, was cool to the idea, fearing it would result in chaos. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair was in opposition and believed that it would lead to Republican defeat in the coming fall congressional elections. Seward favored waiting to release it until the Union achieved a battlefield victory. Lincoln again dropped the issue, but it was clear to his advisors that he was set on issuing an emancipation proclamation by year’s end."

As we commemorate the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865, we reflect on this meaningful day -- Juneteenth. We are also reminded of the narrative told at the President's House where both President George Washington and President John Adams lived when they served as President of the United States.

By way of background, original plans for the President's House site did not include any recognition of the fact that President Washington held nine slaves in the President's House, but activists and some members of Philadelphia's African American community advocated for the creation of a historic site that told a more complete story of all those who had lived in the President's House.

Today the open-air exhibit at the site of the President's House tells the story of the nation's first two presidents (President Washington and President Adams). In addition, there are interpretive displays and exhibits addressing the nine slaves who Washington held, Philadelphia's Free African American community in the late 18th Century, and the history of slavery in America from 1619 to the joyous celebration of the end of slavery in 1865 that gave birth to this holiday - Juneteenth. There are also timelines of key events with slavery from 1619-1942, as well as statistics on slavery in Philadelphia and the United States. For more information, please read the following: The President’s House: Slavery & Freedom in America’s Birthplace.

“Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn't know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty. I had friends among the colored people of Philadelphia, had my things carried there beforehand, and left Washington's house while they were eating dinner." 
--Oney "Ona" Judge (One of President George Washington's former slaves)

At the President's House site, be sure to look for Oney Judge's name on a wall commemorating her as well as the names of eight other enslaved people who lived and worked at that site. Then take note of the footsteps embedded in the ground which represent her flight to freedom.

June 19, 2020 marked the first time that Juneteenth was celebrated as an official city holiday in the City of Philadelphia. According to Mayor Jim Kenney

“The only way to dismantle the institutional racism and inequalities that continue to disenfranchise Black Philadelphians is to look critically at how we got here, and make much-needed changes to the governmental systems that allow inequality to persist. This designation of Juneteenth represents my administration’s commitment to reckon with our own role in maintaining racial inequities and our understanding of the magnitude of work that lies ahead.”

 

 

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